Zuma's rule: Less govt than criminal enterprise

William Saunderson-Meyer says that, as Mbeki warned, we are becoming "just another African kleptocracy"


The Zuma administration: Less of a government, more of a criminal enterprise

In 2015, President Jacob Zuma signed a public service regulation that banned government employees from doing business with the state. Finish and klaar.

Anyone who contravened the regulation would get the boot and be prosecuted. It was, said the African National Congress at the time, evidence of its determination to rid government of dishonest employees. 

This week, Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts heard that government employees are continuing to steal millions of rands by influencing and benefiting from the state procurement process. Many government departments had made not even a cursory attempt to enforce the regulations, the Auditor-General’s officials told parliamentarians.

Correctional Services spent R5.8m on awards where the suppliers were connected to employees. Trade and Industry misspent R5.6m and R4.8m, respectively while Water and Sanitation forked out R3m.

The Police and Justice departments spent R15m and R6m on suppliers connected to employees. Scopa chair, Themba Godi, remarked upon the irony that the two worst performing departments, the “ones who have gone rogue”, were also the ones responsible for maintaining law and order.

These are not enormous amounts. But the AG’s figures to Scopa were from spot checks; it cannot possibly audit every transaction, every deal. Also, these are attempts to keep tabs on obvious transgressions, mostly at the lower end of the criminal food chain. It’s not even starting to look at the sophisticated diversion of largesse via state capture to an ANC-connected elite.

So the AG’s figures hint at far more than they show. It’s like a few point-and-shoot pictures from the depths of the Amazon jungle – it is the enormity of what lies beyond the frame of the photograph that actually gives the true scale.

A similar recent AG audit at Eskom of the 2016/-17 financial year flagged a sample of 12 deals, worth more than a R1bn, done with state employees who had made no conflict of interest disclosures. The Democratic Alliance is in the process of trying to flush out the details of a R149m Eskom tender that went to a company linked to Zuma’s energy adviser, Silas Zimu.

And so, with every month that passes, the political structure that runs South Africa looks increasingly less like a government and more like a criminal enterprise. 

It’s raison d’etre is not to deliver public goods and services to a nation that it serves. It is rather to divert revenue and assets from the citizenry at large, for the benefit of a corrupt mafia.

The tender system – at every level of government from local, through provincial to national – has been subverted. It is no longer about contractors providing, at a competitive price, the state with the means to do its work. In many cases it is simply a siphon, moving the tax and rate contributions of a hardworking citizenry directly into the pockets of the friends and families of crooked officials.

The corruption of political institutions is not, of itself, unusual and exists everywhere in the world to varying degrees. But the more successful a society, the more it has mechanisms to ensure that petty larceny does not become grand looting. It is not coincidence that indexes measuring national corruption correlate inversely almost perfectly with indexes that measure democratic health. 

What makes South Africa worrying is the increasingly brazen scale of state sanctioned thievery. In eight short years we have moved from having a government that tolerated thievery at the margins, to having a government of thieves.

Previous ANC administrations were not free of the problem. Kickback allegations around the R30bn arms procurement deal of 1999 continue to this day, undampened by the Seriti Commission’s blanket of exculpation.

There is a difference, however, between management occasionally dipping some fingers into the till and management emptying unchecked the till into its briefcase at the end of every day’s trading. The importance of that difference is captured in Mark Gevisser’s biography of President Thabo Mbeki, who warned that a Jacob Zuma presidency would reduce South Africa to “just another African kleptocracy”.

Today, increasing numbers of South Africans are faced with the choice of either blowing the whistle on looting, and bringing on their own heads a world of pain and potential retribution, or joining in while there is still something to be looted. 

Mbeki’s vision has come to pass. Zuma has presided over the moral evisceration of the nation. 

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